Wednesday, February 16, 2005

What a long, strange trip it’s been

Wow. I’m back in the USA, but until Jennyjo gets here, it’s not really home.

Being back is great, and I’m very thankful for a safe (if extended) trip home. I didn’t make it in time to see mom and dad, since they had to fly out for a Valic conference in Orlando. I missed them by about 12 hours, but I was able to talk with them both, along with Daniel within a few minutes of arriving at Fort Hood (thanks to Johnny Russell’s cell phone).

Anyway, I guess I’d better take it from the top.

The evening of the 10 th was my last night in Baghdad, and Jennyjo was working the night shift pushing redeployment flights out, so I wasn’t sure that I’d get to see her. The palace lights were on for the Transfer of Authority ceremony, so I climbed a guard tower to get a good photo of it.

I made several stops around Camp Victory to say goodbye to a few remaining friends, including my good friend Adam Crossley, then headed over to her trailer around 2300 to see if maybe she had made it back.

She wasn’t there, so I left a note and headed back to the palace. I was able to hang on to my cell phone until right before I left, so I was hoping she’d be able to find a phone and give me a call. I put the phone right by my head so it would wake me up, just in case.

Sure enough, about 0130 I woke up, and after several confusing seconds of trying to get out of my sleeping bag (which was zipped up with only a tiny breathing hole open) I picked up the phone and tried to figure out where I was and what the heck was going on (I was sleeping pretty hard!)

Jj managed to get me to understand who she was and what was going on, and said that she had a break until about 0500, so I got up and headed out to see her. We hung out in her room for the next 3 hours, and we were both very happy for the chance to see each other one last time before I headed out.

I went back to my cot in the palace at 0500, and grabbed another hour and a half of sleep before waking Dan up to meet Don in the mess hall for breakfast (we had to get a photo with the endlessly annoying centerpieces).

We spent the rest of the morning packing our remaining things, and we headed to the manifest site at 1130. Our flight left for Kuwait at about 1630, so we got to hang out with Don again at BIAP (Baghdad International Airport) for a couple hours.

We got into Camp Doha about 1930, grabbed some snacks from the PX, and crashed pretty early. Our manifest time wasn’t until 2130 the next day, so we (Dan and I) hit the gym, jumped on the internet for a few minutes, and did some quality napping. Our new motto was “Sleep till you’re hungry, eat till you’re tired.”

After bag drop at 2130, we were released until 0130, and then the lockdown began. We got all the familiar briefs: don’t smuggle any AK-47s, bayonets, or nail clippers onto the plane, etc.

About this time, the details get a little hazy and the timeline blurs a bit, so bear with me.

We finally took off from Kuwait International around 1100, and arrived in Hahn, Germany in the mid-afternoon. Our layover was supposed to be about two hours, so about 1930 we began to wonder what was going on.

Sure enough, a service vehicle had run into our plane, so we waited around until 2200, when the airline folks determined that we weren’t going anywhere that night. Luckily for us, civilians were running the operation, so we weren’t relegated to sleeping in the plastic terminal chairs for the next 36 hours.

Busses arrived and drove us an hour and a half to the Frankfurt Sheraton, and we were told to report to the lobby at 0600.

0600 turned into 0700, which subsequently turned into 1100, 1230, and finally 1930. At this point, Dan and I had explored the entire Frankfurt airport and train station, and made several laps around the entire hotel; it was time to hit the city.

We ran into a couple other Soldiers who were as bored as we were, and we decided that even if we got caught, they couldn’t send us back to Iraq, so we bought day tickets for the train and almost made it to the tracks when a group of field grade officers recognized us.

After a few minutes of loitering and a couple ambiguous answers to curious questions, we jumped onto the S9, and were downtown 5 stops later.

We spent the next 5 hours walking all over the place, and found several excellent places to sample the local wares. We were not disappointed, and surely had more fun than would have been possible at the hotel. We even spotted no less than 5 Mini Coopers.

After the 1930 formation (at which no new information was dispersed) we were pretty tired and no longer thirsty, but decided to go out one more time, just to make sure.

When the phone rang at 0230, and Dan heard nothing but German on the other end, we spent a few minutes figuring out that apparently the plane was fixed, and we were to report to the lobby. At 1100 we managed to lift off, despite a snow-covered runway and very low visibility.

Our next stop was Bangor, Maine, and the local veterans turned out in force to greet us with cheers, handshakes, cookies, and cell phones to call home. They made us feel like heroes; men wore hats declaring their service in WWII, Korea, Vietnam, and Desert Storm, and their wives wore red, white, and blue “USA” sweaters and ensured that we all had homemade cookies and hugs aplenty. What an honor to become part of such a tradition of service to our Nation.

Thankfully, two hours in Maine is much shorter than two hours in Germany, and we were on our way by about noon local time.

About five hours later, a cheer went up as we touched down at Robert Gray Army Airfield, Fort Hood, Texas. We walked from the plane to waiting busses, and stopped to turn in our weapons and do some last minute in-processing before continuing on the gym where our reception was to be.

We got off the busses, dropped our bags, and as we lined up behind the gym a few kids spotted us through the back door and the whole place erupted. Somebody stood in front of the formation and said something, but I don’t think any of us have any idea who it was or what he said.

Before I knew it, we were running into the gym; I had no idea that the spouses, kids, and friends of 200 Soldiers could produce that much noise.

We stood at attention while a general or two welcomed us back, and saluted while the National Anthem was played. The cheering stopped momentarily for an invocation, only to be shattered a second after “amen” with a thunderous “HARTNEYYYY!!!” from over my left shoulder. I knew Johnny Russell was in the crowd, and seconds later we were released to search for our friends and families.

Johnny, Cory, Jen, Matt, Sarah, and Jake all found me quickly, and reminded me of the incalculable value of true friends.

I couldn’t fully appreciate the moment with Jennyjo still in Baghdad, but that will only make her homecoming that much sweeter.

On the way home in Taco (Johnny’s truck) I spoke with mom and dad, and I came home to a delicious meal of chicken pie, rice, beans, (courtesy of mom), and a Shiner Bock (courtesy of Johnny).

Orlando stopped by to see it I’d made it back, and managed to time it just right to grab some supper!

I definitely felt welcome, and I can’t thank all of you enough for keeping me in your prayers. Please continue to pray for Jennyjo. I’ve emailed with her, and she’s doing well, but very ready to come home (and I’m ready to get her home!)


Blogger charlestongal said...

i loved hearing your coming home story!! and the pics were great! i'm so glad you're back!!! i'll keep praying for jennyjo. talk to you soon!

7:17 AM  
Blogger Joy Ridge said...

Wow, what an adventure coming home! We are very thankful you're back and are continuing to pray for sweet Jj!

7:17 AM  
Blogger smk said...

PLT!!!! RICHARD'S BACK!!!! i'm still praying for Jj!

6:19 PM  
Anonymous Tom F said...

You guys are Amereican heroes. Thanks for sharing your thoughts & feelings via your blog.

We live in Manhattan, KS, near Ft. Riley. Last nite we attended our first redeployment ceremony - wow! It will not be our last.

7:39 PM  
Blogger Gunston said...

Teatime says...Welcome home, Son! I am so happy and grateful to God and proud of you. Everything will be all better when JennyJo gets home, too. I'm so glad you liked the chicken pie. Thank you for serving with courage and faithfulness. You and Jj are in my prayers continually.

6:26 PM  
Blogger Grace said...

PTL you are home!!!!! i loved the pics!!!! and mini coopers are my favorite!!! you and the whole US army are my heros!! thanks for doing what would be realllllyyyyy hard for me to do!!!! i will be praying for Jj's safty, and a safe trip home!!!

8:32 PM  
Blogger Toni said...

Hey Rich - those pics were so much fun to see. Thanks for sharing.

1:07 PM  
Blogger charlestongal said...

just because you're back in the states doesn't mean you can't blog anymore! ;)

2:46 PM  
Blogger Addie said...

i really enjoyed reading that! and i'm glad you're home safetly!:)

6:19 PM  
Blogger Grace said...

carey!! goodness!! your getting a little aggressive about people and their blogs!!! wow

7:19 AM  
Blogger charlestongal said...

i'm not getting aggressive! i just miss the olden blogging days when everyone used to blog all the time! ;)

10:31 AM  
Blogger Carolina Girl said...

yeah, I think I have the non-posting fever again!

4:24 AM  
Blogger Carolina Girl said...

yeah, I think I have the non-posting fever again!

4:25 AM  
Blogger Online Incomes said...

Hey I was just blog surfing amd I found your blog! Looks Great!

I also have a airline american center ticket
It deals mostly with airline american center ticket plus other stuff,
You can save up to 50% your next flight!

You should check it out if you get a chance!!

12:43 AM  
Blogger FXGUY said...

Wow what a great blog. You've piqued my interest.. The area of forklift attachment is also one of my interests along with forklift attachment. Thanks for the information and contribution.

10:58 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home